Interview with Christian Zöllner
In the current issue about Germany´s East we offer a small stage to seven projects that are situated far away from prominent creative and design metropolises such as Leipzig and Berlin in Eastern Germany. It is not a representative selection. What all these projects share in common, however, are delight in experimentation and commitment, inventiveness and courage. These examples are trendsetting not only for economically underdeveloped regions, because here the post-industrial and post-growth economy is already quasi a reality. Or as the Kühlhaus Görlitz association puts it: Industrial culture is becoming industrial nature. Here you can read the expanded interview with Christian Zöllner of Fabmobil (Dresden).
How did the idea for the Fabmobil originate?
Since around 2015, we had been asking ourselves why we designers are so focused on urban centres. What does it profit us to operate our design studio in the middle of Kreuzberg? What do we need to have the same design quality and enjoyment of work in the countryside? Soon we began discussing the idea of a coworking space or experimental lab of our own with connected learning opportunities: for even more young, adventuresome creatives in the countryside. If one takes a closer look at the non-urban and decentralised areas on the periphery, however, it becomes apparent that one central property won’t work. You can’t get there by bus or train and somehow everything is always equally far away. So we decided to develop a mobile laboratory. That enables us to go where the people are and offer them workshops, courses or simply times when they can use the workshop. A village design studio for us turned into a mobile continuing education lab for everybody.
What does the“pot of gold full of ideas” offer?
The Fabmobil has everything aboard that belongs in a well equipped (digital) workshop. There are various 3D printers, a laser cutter, transparency plotters, soldering stations and Internet-of-things equipment for hardware programming. We have laptops for courses and also thoroughly analogue drills, grinders and milling machines as well as a gigantic selection of material samples. The bus also has its own library with books about design, hacking, and DIY culture. Then, of course, there are also the workshop leaders who help Fabmobil visitors to realise their projects while they are aboard.
Has the region of Eastern Saxony changed because of the Fabmobil?
It’s still difficult to say whether the region has changed because of us, since it takes a very long time for social design projects like ours to have an impact. We can say that many visitors to the Fabmobil, above all young people, come into contact with digital technology for the first time as independent producers instead of as consumers. Some come again, and in many places, people are making initial attempts to perpetuate the project by installing small Fab Labs of their own. In our capacity as a nationwide model project, we also serve as a blueprint for many other initiatives and frequently advise large and small mobile educational projects in the area of digital culture. Because the projects are usually very cost-intensive, however, the initiatives are mainly sponsored by states or the federal government. The regions often lack sufficient budgets for such big, long-term projects.
Some politicians are demanding that the subsidies for rural areas should flow into the urban centres. What do you think about that?
Pronouncements like that are based on a neoliberal logic of exploitation which holds that only profitable regions also have a right to equal living conditions. That conclusion is intrinsically false and to then also communicate it so indifferently is reckless. It is necessary to promote rural areas so they can develop long-term perspectives. And anyway: what will happen if the state subsidies are withdrawn? Then we will be left with “Reich citizens” and preppers, crystal meth addicts and alcoholics and widespread ecological neglect. No, thanks.
What projects are you planning for the future?
At the moment, we are trying to make ourselves and the Fabmobil obsolete in Easter Saxony. In mid-September, we will hold an innovation camp at Kühlhaus Görlitz together with German Federal Competence Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries on the topic of rural areas. For this, we are inviting both players from the Lausitz region and best practice examples and initiatives from the Wendland, Saxony-Anhalt, the Alps and Baden-Württemberg. Design students from Burg Giebichenstein are supporting the event and translate the results of the workshops into initial communicative prototypes. It’s going to be great.